Iraq War: Syria Not Next, Insists Blair
Byline: Gavin Cordon
Tony Blair last night insisted there were no plans by Britain or the United States to invade Syria.
However his attempts to quell speculation that Damascus was 'next on the list' for coalition forces came as senior figures in the US administration were ratcheting up the pressure on the Syrians.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Syria needs to 'review its actions and behaviour', while White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that it was 'well corroborated' that they had a chemical weapons programme.
Washington has also accused Syria of harbouring senior figures in the Iraqi regime fleeing coalition forces.
But Mr Blair said in a Commons statement that he had spoken to Syrian President Bashar Assad at the weekend and received an assurance that no Iraqi regime figures would be given safe haven in his country. He also played down claims by President Bush at the weekend that Syria had chemical weapons, saying the concern related to the fact that Damascus had not signed the international convention on chemical weapons.
The Prime Minister's spokesman said their knowledge of Syria's weapons programme was 'a bit hazy'.
While Mr Blair dismissed claims that the coalition was preparing plans for an invasion of Syria as just another 'conspiracy theory', he warned that President Assad must stand by his assurances not to shelter Saddam's henchmen.
'There are no plans to invade Syria so it stands to reason we do not intend to invade Syria,' Mr Blair told MPs.
'There may be all sorts of things that come out of the newspapers about various conspiracy theories to do with parts of the American administration. I have the advantage of talking to the American President on a regular basis and I can assure you that there are no plans to invade Syria.
'What people are saying, however, is that it is important that Syria does not harbour people from Saddam's regime or allow any transfer of materials from Iraq to Syria. …